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A mirror image of the Cuba crisis 

Ola Tunander
Ola Tunander
Tunander is Professor Emeritus of PRIO. See also wikipedia, at PRIO: , as well as a bibliography on Waterstone
WEAPON SUPPORT / If the West gives more weapons to Ukraine, it only means that Russia's will continue to escalate the war. The consequence of the arms support is clear: It will not lead to Ukrainian victory, but to the destruction of Ukraine with hundreds of thousands of young Russians and Ukrainians killed.


US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke at a press conference in November about Russia's "imperial aggression" and "self-chosen war". His chief of defense, Mark Milley, echoed Austin's words, saying that Russia wants to conquer Ukraine, because Russia is "aggressive" and has never accepted Ukraine as an independent state.

President Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, describes the war as "an existential war", as a war to ensure Russia's survival as a state. For him, it is about a mirror image of the Cuba crisis, about preventing American forces from being able to be stationed in Ukraine close to Moscow – just as the United States in 1962 prevented Soviet forces and missiles from being based in Cuba. 

Putin has also stated that he had hoped that the 2014–15 Minsk Agreement would be implemented (it would have given Donetsk and Lugansk relative autonomy), but it turned out that Ukraine had never accepted the agreement. Former President Petro Poroshenko said in June 2022 that he signed the agreement because Ukraine had to buy time to build up its military strength, in order to recapture Donetsk-Luhansk. In March 2021, President Zelenskyj also decided to recapture Crimea. Kyiv had been bombing Donetsk-Lugansk for eight years. Up to 14 men and women had been killed, and now Ukraine was planning an offensive that would kill tens of thousands of Ukrainians in the area who spoke Russian. According to Putin, Russia had to intervene to protect the Russian-speaking population. 


Austin and Milley's version is incompatible with Putin's. But are there objective criteria for determining who is right? We know that to conquer a country, but also to install a Quisling regime, an occupation is required – something Norway has also experienced. According to American military theory, such an occupation would require one soldier per 40-50 inhabitants. According to General Milley, Russia entered with 170–000 men, while an occupation would require at least a million Russian soldiers, a force five to six times that size. But experience says that Russia would have used a much larger force. When they occupied Czechoslovakia in 180, they went in with 000-1968 times as many soldiers per capita compared to Ukraine in 10. 

The Russian version appears more credible.

If Russia had wanted to occupy Ukraine, they would have gone in with a force almost ten times as large. We can thus say that Russia had neither the intention of conquering Ukraine nor of installing a Quisling regime. Naturally, Austin and Miller also know that. The Russian version appears more credible. Russia would guarantee the safety of Donetsk og Lugansk, securing Crimea and thus also the water resources of Crimea from Kherson, which the Kiev regime had cut off. They would probably also take Zaporizhzhya, the land connection between Crimea-Kherson and Donetsk. 

These Russian-speaking areas supported President Viktor Yanukovych in 2010. They then rebelled against the Kiev regime after the coup d'état against Yanukovych in February 2014. If the Russian forces' mission was to restore the security of the Russian-speaking population in eastern Ukraine, 170–000 men appear as a more reasonable strength.

But Russia also wanted to any price prevent Ukraine from being drawn into NATO and therefore becoming a bridgehead for US military power. Moscow also wanted to ensure that Ukraine's forces, and in particular the far-right "Bandera forces", were so weakened that they would not be able to attack Russia. And these requirements are absolute. If the war had been about territory, both sides would have been able to sit down and negotiate a border demarcation (and the more Western arms support, the stronger Ukraine would have been in the negotiations). 

Russia will continue the war until the West accepts the conditions for Russian security.

But this is a fallacy. For Russia, the war is not a self-chosen war, but an existential war. Russia will therefore continue the war until the West accepts the conditions for Russian security. Since 1949, such an acceptance has been the basis of Norwegian politics (base policy and nuclear policy) – but no longer does so. The US has moved its positions forward. If the West gives more weapons to Ukraine, it only means that Russia will continue to escalate the war. Kyiv will never be able to recapture Crimea or Donbass, as Russia will prevent it too any price. Russia will now deploy a much larger force and a massive bombing, similar to what the US usually starts its wars with – but which Russia would first avoid in order not to harm civilians. 

Western hubris

Norwegian politicians say that our arms support is intended to help Ukraine, but if Putin perceives the war as "existential", more weapons will only escalate the war and kill even more soldiers – Ukrainians as well as Russians. The consequence of the arms support is clear: It will not lead to Ukrainian victory, but to the destruction of Ukraine with hundreds of thousands of young men killed. The weapons of Ukraine will in practice become 'guillotines' to execute a generation of young Ukrainian men, but perhaps also thousands of Poles and Romanians who are also participating in the war. Ukraine has constantly tried to drag NATO directly into the war, and perhaps they will succeed in doing so. With the hubris we find in the West, we must expect that the war will escalate to Europe, while Russia is unlikely to be deterred by such a war. Perhaps both sides will use stronger weapons, perhaps nuclear weapons. 

Norwegian politicians have not seen the seriousness of this war. Russia will never let Donbass or Crimea fall.

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